- Age Range: 8 - 12 years
- Grade Level: 3 - 7
- Lexile Measure: 770L (What's this?)
- Hardcover: 254 pages
- Publisher: Scholastic Press; 1st edition (2003)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0439372941
- ISBN-13: 978-0439372947
- Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.8 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 267 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #601,419 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Chasing Vermeer Hardcover – 2003
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In the classic tradition of E.L. Konigsburgs From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, debut author Blue Balliett introduces readers to another pair of precocious kids on an artful quest full of patterns, puzzles, and the power of blue M&Ms. Eleven year old Petra and Calder may be in the same sixth grade class, but they barely know each other. Its only after a near collision during a museum field trip that they discover their shared worship of art, their teacher Ms. Hussey, and the blue candy that doesnt melt in your hands. Their burgeoning friendship is strengthened when a creative thief steals a valuable Vermeer painting en route to Chicago, their home town. When the thief leaves a trail of public clues via the newspaper, Petra and Calder decide to try and recover the painting themselves. But tracking down the Vermeer isnt easy, as Calder and Petra try to figure out what a set of pentominos (mathematical puzzle pieces), a mysterious book about unexplainable phenomena and a suddenly very nervous Ms. Hussey have to do with a centuries old artwork. When the thief ups the ante by declaring that he or she may very well destroy the painting, the two friends know they have to make the pieces of the puzzle fit before its too late!
Already being heralded as The DaVinci Code for kids, Chasing Vermeer will have middle grade readers scrutinizing art books as they try to solve the mystery along with Calder and Petra. In an added bonus, artist Brett Helquist has also hidden a secret pentomino message in several of the books illustrations for readers to decode. An auspicious and wonderfully satisfying debut that will leave no young detective clueless. --Jennifer Hubert
*Starred Review* Gr. 5-8. The Westing Game, The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler--how exciting to find a book that conjures up these innovative, well-loved titles. That's exactly what Balliett does in her debut novel, which mixes mystery, puzzles, possibilities, and art. The story is set in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood at the University of Chicago's Lab School, where Balliett was a teacher. There, outsiders Petra and Calder become friends as they try to find out what happened to a missing Vermeer painting. That's really all the plot one needs to know. More important are Balliett's purpose in writing and the way she has structured her story. The former seems to be to get to children to think--about relationships, connections, coincidences, and the subtle language of artwork. To accomplish this, she peppers her story with seemingly random events that eventually come together in a startling, delightful pattern. The novel isn't perfect. It glides over a few nitty-gritty details (how did the thief nab the picture), and occasionally the coincidences seem more silly than serendipitous. However, these are quibbles for a book that offers children something new upon each reading. Adults who understand the links between children's reading and their developing minds and imaginations will see this as special, too. Helquist, who has illustrated the Lemony Snickett books, outdoes himself here, providing an interactive mystery in his pictures. Ilene Cooper
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Top customer reviews
I was so excited by this book when I started reading it -- it sets up interesting characters, an exciting mystery, and a visual puzzle for the reader to solve through the illustrations in the book. I loved the initial character development of Petra and Calder, two smart young people who have very different ways of thinking. It was fun using the pentomino code to decode the letters in the book, and to try to solve the hidden puzzle in the pictures. And I loved that the mystery was based around art history. But as I read on, I became disappointed. The character development fell flat. The visual puzzle was not quite as challenging as I'd hoped (though still satisfying). And, most disappointing of all, the mystery was really not as exciting as initially promised (trying to turn the nitpicky art historical issue of painting attribution into a big international scandal just didn't work for me).
Despite these disappointments, I still believe this book has something special to offer, with its unique approach, and its two main characters who really think about the world around them, and use all their intelligence and intuition to solve the mystery.
This book frustrated me much in the same way that Harry Potter has. The author just takes too many liberties to allow the reader to feel part of the story. It feels unfair when an author gets to have a surprise hidden panel in the wall at the end of the story. I don't know if this is so much true for all genres. A mystery, however, should be tight. It needs to feel like a completed puzzle at the end - either leaving you feeling satisfied that you called it right, or amazed at how well it all came together. When it feels like a jumble that nobody could have pieced together except the author (and even appears that the author took pains to make it more complicated than necessary) it just doesn't work. In some cases of literature (and art!), when you think "I could have made that," it is a compliment on how easy the creator made it look. In the case of Chasing Vermeer, and knowing full well my limitations as a writer, thinking "I could have written that" is not a good thing.
For a book club book, I think this will still be a delight to young readers. If the club is given all the extra ingredients to completely lose themselves in a world of mathematical and artistic mystery, fall in love with Chasing Vermeer. I have only read this book aloud with students. To independently read it as a book club, students would probably need to be older and have strategies for figuring out the references the book makes.
A few years ago I also enjoyed an adult fiction by Tracy Chevalier about the same artist and another of his famous paintings, Girl with a Pearl Earring. It was later made into a beautiful "art" film starring the very handsome and tremendously talented actor Colin Firth.
It is always a pleasure to shed light (no pun intended) on the work of a great master artist.
Here's the trick. Take Tommy and Calder's code. The letter of the pentomino then the number of frogs. If you take you just look at the pictures you don't even have to read the book. But, I would recommend reading it because it just gives you that thrill feeling.